Iraq Inquiry: Fifth Day of Public Hearings, with Manning, 30th November 2009

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    3rd December, 2009

    Iraq Inquiry: 5th day of public hearings with Manning

    By Julie

    This post, like the 1st Day and the 2nd Day and the 3rd Day and the 4th Day comes with my grateful thanks to Julie here

    Also see Iraq Inquiry timetable of hearings, who and when

    You can read the full transcript of the session here. And you can watch the video here.
    These are the most significant quotes from the fifth session of the Iraq Inquiry


    5th day of public hearings

    Subject: UK policy towards Iraq 2001 – 2003

    30th November 2009: Afternoon session: Evidence by

    • Sir David Manning (Foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Blair;former UK ambassador to the US, from 2003 until 2007)


    “I have given you that background because I think it is important in understanding how American minds moved after 9/11 and this has a profound effect, I think, not only on the Iraq issue, but on the whole way in which the administration then look at security, and they moved subsequently, in 2002, as I’m sure you know, to talk about preemption in a way that is entirely new.”.

    “The first time that the President mentioned Iraq to the Prime Minister after 9/11 was on 14 September in a telephone call and he said, if I recall, that he thought there might be evidence that there was some connection between Saddam Hussein and Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaida. The Prime Minister’s response to this was that the evidence would have to be very compelling indeed to justify taking any action against Iraq. He also cautioned the President in a letter, in October, against widening the war.”

    (Talking about January 2002) “I recall saying to Dr Rice in our conversations that if there was a review policy going on in the United States, it would certainly, we thought, have to include the whole question of how to incorporate inspections into any revised policy to do with Iraq.”

    (Talking about March 2002) “I said to Dr Rice that if they were going to construct a coalition, there were a number of issues that they must think through, as far as we were concerned. One was: what role did they envisage for the UN inspectors? What were they going to do by way of explaining the threat that Saddam posed? It was very important, if we were going to ramp up the pressure on Iraq, to explain what the nature of the threat was, so that the public was aware of that. They would need, if the peaceful route failed, a convincing plan about how you got rid of Saddam Hussein if it came to that issue of regime change, and they would certainly need a convincing blueprint about what a post Saddam Iraq should look like. I also said that the Middle East peace process, which I have alluded to already, which was in a very dangerous state at this time, that the Israel/Palestine issue was critical; it was not an optional extra. I suggested that we weren’t anywhere near, at this stage, having answers to these problems, and Dr Rice agreed.-

    (Talking about 6th April/Crawford Range) “He said that they had discussed Iraq over dinner. He told us that there was no war plan for Iraq, but he had set up a small cell in Central Command in Florida and he had asked Central Command to do some planning and to think through the various options. When they had done that, he would examine these options. The Prime Minister added that he had been saying to the President it was important to go back to the United Nations and to present going back to the United Nations as an opportunity for Saddam to cooperate.”

    (Talking about a visit to Washington end of July 2002) “I arrived in time to have a pre-meeting with the Deputy Secretary of State, Richard Armitage, in the State Department before seeing Dr Rice, and when I touched upon Iraq, I said to him that I didn’t know where American thinking had reached at this point, but if there was going to be some kind of choice for regime change by the American administration, there were a number of questions that certainly we in London would need answered and I thought the international community would need answered. Among them was: why now? What would happen if Saddam Hussein were to use weapons of mass destruction during a military campaign? What would follow military action? What role in all of this would the United States see the United Nations playing, and what was the United States planning to do about the Middle East peace process? I said that I didn’t think we had answers to those questions and Richard Armitage said that he thought they needed a lot more work and, in his phrase, “It was better to be right than to hurry”. Later that day, I had dinner with Dr Rice on my own and I told her that the only way that the United Kingdom could take part in any change policy vis a vis Iraq was if we went through the United Nations.

    “I had also taken with me a note from the Prime Minister to the President, which was about Iraq, and the note made it clear, as I had done, that Britain could only take part in any policy if it was part of a coalition that went through the United Nations.”

    “I think, to go on with your question, if you allow me, this is a key moment in this story, because there had been what I would call more noise in the American system during August about being ready to take military action, but when I came back from holiday at the end of August, Dr Rice phoned me to say that we could disregard this.”

    (Talking about 7th September 2002/Camp David) “I think it is important here to bring out a distinction perhaps between us and the Americans. Our view, the Prime Minister’s view, the British Government’s view throughout this episode was that the aim was disarmament. It was not regime change. The Prime Minister never made any secret of the fact that if the result of disarming Saddam was regime change, he thought this would be a positive thing, but, for the Americans, it was almost the opposite. It was, “We want regime change in order to disarm Saddam Hussein”, but to come back to this discussion, he said that we might need two resolutions; one to set the conditions, and one to take action if those conditions weren’t met, and that our message should be either the regime must change in response to UN pressure and to UN Resolutions or it would be changed by military action. The President said on this occasion that if by any chance Saddam accepted and implemented the terms of a new resolution, we would have succeeded in changing the very nature of the regime, and in a colourful phrase, which has stayed with me, he said: “We would have cratered the guy.”

    “It was always going to be made plain to Saddam Hussein that he had an option. He could resolve this peacefully or, if not, the United Nations, as we hoped, would then deal with the situation by military means.”

    “There were quite potent arguments, I believe, that Saddam himself was capitalising on a containment policy through taking control of the UN food programme and so on.”

    “There was also, I think, in assessing our own policy, a belief that it was very important to try and bolster the credibility of the United Nations itself as an institution. One theme that ran through the insistence of British Ministers in going back to the United Nations was that this was where this problem had been handled, that Saddam Hussein was in breach of United Nations Resolutions, and, therefore, it must be in the UN that this flagrant violation of the international community’s demand and will should be met. It might have been an exaggeration to talk about the risk that the United Nations would start to look like the League of Nations and become an irrelevance, but there was a real fear that if the United Nations simply adjusted its sanctions policy and that this was seen to fail, not only would the consequences be a Saddam Hussein who was rampant again, but that the credibility of the United Nations itself would have been very severely compromised.”

    It was a view that was on several occasions conceded by Dr Rice and, indeed, by  the President, that if Saddam Hussein accepted the provisions of, as it turned out to be, UN Security Council Resolution 1441, the situation on the ground in Iraq would be so profoundly different that the regime would have changed itself, and, therefore, the threat posed by Iraq to the international community would have been dramatically transformed, because, of course and you have heard all this from Sir Jeremy Greenstock the provisions that were included in UN Security Council Resolution 1441 provided for very intrusive inspection, for complete dismantling of the military capability that Saddam Hussein had in terms of weapons of mass destruction, and that this would in itself have changed the regime.”

    (Talking about September 2002) “At this stage, the Prime Minister said that he was willing, on an entirely contingent basis, for the military to suggest that we would be willing to offer package 2, as I think it had then been renamed, ie the enhanced support package, but that it had to be absolutely clear that no political decisions in Britain had been made on this.”

    “We were not the only country. I think it may have been Sir Christopher Meyer, but one of the previous witnesses has said that there were 30 or 40 countries in the end that were in this coalition, but, clearly, our own contribution was far more significant than most other partners in that coalition.”

    Until the very last weeks, if you like, before the conflict broke out, we were trying to secure, first of all, the first resolution, which we did in November, and then a second resolution and I think the Prime Minister’s view was that going through the UN was absolutely essential, yes.”

    “As far as the Prime Minister was concerned, there were two tracks. One was absolutely the track he wished to follow, which was the diplomatic track through the United Nations and the international coalition, and we pursued this to the end, but he also, I think, felt he had to be in a position, if that failed, to be able to use force if he needed to.”

    I think it is important, too, to emphasise that I think Prime Minister Blair thought it was right, and, therefore, if it was right, it was worth doing properly, and I think it was Sir Christopher Meyer who referred to the Prime Minister’s approach to the foreign policy, and he had used military force on other occasions because he believed it was the right thing to do. He had done it in Kosovo in order to return the Kosovo Albanians to Kosovo. He had done it in Sierra Leone. He had also committed British troops and forces in Afghanistan. Some of those operations had required UN backing, some of them hadn’t. I would also endorse what Sir Christopher, I think, said about the importance of a speech the Prime Minister gave in 1999 to the Economic Club in Chicago. Again, it was long before my time of working for him, but it was a speech, I think I’m correct in saying, called “The Doctrine of International Community”, and I think it is important, in understanding the Prime Minister, not to assume that when we reached the point that he commits troops, he is doing this because it is something George Bush tells him to do. I think his foreign policy approach on moments like this becomes muscular, and he believes there are moments when the international community must act, and if the only way you can act is to deploy force, that is what you had better do. One of the interesting things about that speech in 1999 is he singles out two dictators in particular whom he considers to be an enormous menace to international disability and one is Milosevic in Serbia, and the other is Saddam Hussein. I think when you try and assess, at the end of this attempt to go through the UN, why, ultimately, he committed troops, it was because he believed it was the right thing to do. He believed he had exhausted the alternatives. He believed that it would deal with the disarmament issue, and this is part and parcel of his approach to international security.”

    “Indeed I will. I worried about how prepared we would be to fight in a chemical and biological weapons environment. We had seen intelligence to the effect that Saddam Hussein had certainly threatened to use these weapons early on in any conflict, and I felt it was important that the Prime Minister should know that we were capable of dealing with this. I was worried that, if the planning had been premised on the idea that land forces should come in considerable numbers from the north, we were now suddenly finding that we couldn’t do this. Were we sure that the amended plan was satisfactory? I was also particularly worried about what I understood were the plans for Baghdad, and I can’t recall exactly now, but I think and of course, this involved American troops, not ours. But as I recall, there was a sort of pie chart showing how the plan was that, if there was resistance from the Republican guards, Saddam Hussein’s most trusted troops, various sectors of the city would be taken one after the other, and I worried that this would lead to very intense street fighting and very high casualties. I have to say to you that I was wrong on every count.”

    “I did ask the chiefs of staff and, I think, the Defence Secretary to go over all this with the Prime Minister on 15 January 2003, because I did have these concerns and I did think they needed to be addressed, and they certainly addressed them and they certainly proved to be right and I proved to be wrong.”

    (Talking about the Prime Minister’s approach after 9/11)” I think he was also very exercised at this time about relationships between what I would loosely call the western community and the Muslim world, and therefore felt it was very important to try and build bridges to the Muslim world and not to make issues like Afghanistan or Iraq appear to be in some sense a Muslim issue.”

    “We in London, and certainly, I personally, believed that the inspections should be given more time to work.”

    “The perception I had and it may or may not be correct is that Ambassador Bremer arrived with pretty much the Americanised plenipotentiary power and I referred to these issues about the disbanding of the Iraqi army and the thoroughgoing purge of the Ba’ath Party. These seemed to have been, as far as I’m aware, decisions that he took himself on his own authority despite the fact that we were very concerned about it and despite the fact, as I knew from conversations I had had with American interlocutors that they were not planning to do this. So I think the extent to which the Coalition Provisional Authority under Ambassador Bremer is influenceable, you like, is not only a problem for London, it turns out to be a problem for Washington.”

    “I think I have also said to you, the Prime Minister was, I think, clear in his own mind that if he felt the UN route had been completely exhausted, that he would stand by his commitment that he would take military action. I think personally he thought it was very important that if the UN route failed, he went to Parliament, and he did do that, and, as you know, Parliament endorsed the decision and the British participation went ahead. There were a range of options open to us at that point, but I was not surprised that the Prime Minister chose, in those circumstances, to commit British troops.”

    “I think, looking at what we expected as a result internationally, there were positives and there were negatives, if I can put it like that. The key positive was the expectation that Iraq would be rid of weapons of mass destruction and this, in turn, would have a knock on effect in the region. Saddam Hussein was somebody who had, after all, invaded Kuwait, had started a war earlier on with Iran, was a potential threat to his neighbours all the time, and whatever many of them were prepared to say in public, in private they were in no doubt that it was very uncomfortable indeed living alongside Saddam Hussein. There was an expectation, I think, that this would at least help to promote a greater degree of stability and perhaps cooperation in the Gulf than was possible while Saddam Hussein was in place. So I think it was a shared hope. It wasn’t a certainty but it was a shared hope that an Iraq without weapons of mass destruction, an Iraq that was perhaps on the road to stability and some form of democracy, would be a much better place for its neighbours. I think I would just like to add there that although this isn’t technically a foreign policy point, I think the Prime Minister and his other Ministers also thought actually it would be the liberation of a lot of people in Iraq. I think we perhaps tend to forget now the scale of internal oppression that certainly at the time weighed in the argument. This was a dictator who had murdered, as we now think, hundreds of thousands of his own people, and we knew after the Gulf War, that he had unleashed a reign of terror on the Marsh Arabs, among others. So I think there was a sense not only would this help in terms of regional stability but it would also bring about a better regime inside Iraq, which was in itself a good. But on the other hand, I am also very conscious, you know, that there were negatives, and we were very conscious that there were negatives.”

    “I think, after the war was over, there was a real effort by everybody on the British side with their American interlocutors, from the Prime Minister down, to press for remedial action and, as I said to you, I think it is true that there was a loss of focus and attention by the American administration after the war, and I think we did try then to affect the decisions that were taken.”

    Important exchanges

    CHAIRMAN: “Going back to Crawford, clearly a critical encounter, do you judge that the President and the Prime Minister had a shared view that wherever events ended up in Iraq policy, they would still be together when that final point was reached?

    MANNING: I think you would have to ask the Prime Minister about that yourself. I think the Prime Minister’s view throughout this crisis was that he wanted to disarm Iraq, that if that led to regime change, so be it, and he would not be anything other than delighted to see the back of Saddam Hussein, but that was not the policy. But I think throughout this too, he is very conscious of what he sees as the need to ensure that the United States is not left to deal with international security issues on its own, and he sees it as very important, particularly in the traumatic period after 9/11, which I have described, that there is international support for the United States and that the major global challenges to security are met by the international community together, that it shouldn’t, if you like, be left to a US global policeman to do these things. So I think his view was that he expected to be with the United States at the end, but this would only be possible if the United Nations were the channel to get to the end.”

    PRASHAR: “Did we attach any conditions to military participation; for example, going through the United Nations route and the Middle East peace process?”

    MANNING: The Prime Minister had been clear all the way through that, if we were going to reach the point where there was going to be military action, it would only be if we had exhausted all efforts through the United Nations and, if, throughout 2002, he also and I think I alluded to this had said that there must be a proper public information campaign to explain the nature of the risk, as we saw it, and the need to disarm Saddam Hussein. He was very insistent throughout this period, and indeed afterwards, on the need to try and stabilise the Middle East by tackling the confrontation between Israel and the Palestinians and those were certainly conditions, I think, in his mind. I think there was another element. I don’t want to say it was, as it were, a condition in quite that way, but he was insistent throughout that a lot of thought needed to be given to what happened on what has been called “the morning after”.

    FREEDMAN: “Again, for clarification’s sake, would you say Crawford did represent a step change in British policy or was it a combination of something else?”

    MANNING: “I didn’t feel it represented a step change in military policy.”

    LYNE: “Two quick questions, if I may. Just going back to these conditions, I mean, effectively we ended up in a situation in which none of our conditions, or our shopping list, if you like, had actually been fully met, international acceptance and legitimacy, a wide coalition, the Middle East peace process, you said we were disappointed with the results on, proper planning for the aftermath, and exhausting the UN route. Now, when we have reached that point, was there reconsideration at the top level as to whether we should actually go ahead?

    MANNING: Yes, I think there was. I think the Prime Minister certainly discussed that with his Ministers. I take you back, though, to the point that he had always made it clear that his objective was the disarmament of Saddam Hussein. He wanted to do this through the UN route. If it failed, he was, I think, committed to staying the course as he saw it, and taking military action to effect this. Because I think if he was unable to do this through the international route, then he was prepared, at the end of the day, to take part in military action.”

    PRASHAR: “Who took the decision on deBa’athification and when was that taken?”

    MANNING: “As far as I’m aware, this was a decision taken by Ambassador Bremer when he took over as the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority. I can’t say to you that I ever saw a piece of paper that proved it was his decision alone, but there has been, as I understand it, a long controversy over this and how this decision was reached and who in Washington knew about it. I can only say it took us completely by surprise, and, judging from my conversations with Dr Rice, it took her completely by surprise.”

    PRASHAR: “What was her view then and what was your view now?”

    MANNING: “My view then is the same as my view now; that it was a mistake.

    PRASHAR: “Was this your view or was it a shared view?”

    MANNING: “No, it was a shared view, I think. There was absolutely no nobody in London, and certainly I’m not aware of anybody in London, either an official, myself or at ministerial level, who thought that disbanding the army or disbanding or having a purge of the Ba’ath Party was a good idea.”

    LYNE: “So he felt by March 2003 that the UN route had been completely exhausted?”

    MANNING: “I think he felt there might have been some play left in terms of a few days only in trying to prolong the possibility of further inspections, and certainly his enthusiasm for the tests that we had established for the discussions we tried to have with the “undecided six”, as Sir Jeremy Greenstock mentioned, these all pointed to the fact that he was very keen to try and keep the UN route going as long as possible, but I think he concluded by certainly by the second week of March, that the UN route was not going to work and the issue was not that, it was when the Americans would decide they had given the UN route their best shot and it wasn’t going to work and whether they were going to go ahead without it.”

    LYNE: “Had he and you been telling the Americans, maybe in the preceding month when both of you were making an enormous effort with Sir Jeremy Greenstock and Jack Straw and others to get a second resolution, that it was essential for the British Government to have a second resolution?”

    MANNING: “Yes, I had told them it was essential.”

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